Get Involved in Solving Vacation Rental Problems

Short-term vacation rentals have become a subject of increasing concern, both due to their impact on nearby residents and because they exacerbate affordable housing problems. San Juan County is considering changing the rules for these rentals and has scheduled a hearing before the planning commission.

A copy of the staff report and proposed changes can be found at:

Written comments will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. April 20.

Both written and oral comments will be accepted at the hearing, which begins at 8:45 a.m. April 21 in the county legislative hearing room in Friday Harbor. Written comments can be emailed to Erika Shook, Director of Community Development, at or mailed to P.O. Box 947, Friday Harbor, WA 98250.

According to the staff report, vacation rental permits have been issued for 964 housing units, about 7% of such units in the County. The total number of houses being used as vacation rentals is, however, higher. According to Ms. Shook, approximately 15-20% of units operated as vacation rentals do so without a permit.

Short-term vacation rentals benefit the owner and visitors renting the units, but they can adversely impact neighborhoods and communities.

While they are not the primary cause of the affordable housing crisis, the proliferation of short-term vacation rentals exacerbates the existing problem. In addition to taking units out of the rental pool, the demand for these profitable, commercial investments puts additional upward pressure on housing values, making housing less affordable for islanders.

Vacation rentals can also change the character of neighborhoods and reduce commercial lodging revenues. If those operating vacation rentals pay their staff lower wages and provide fewer benefits than commercial lodgings, workers have more difficulty living here. Other communities have adopted regulations to minimize the adverse impacts of short-term vacation rentals. Restrictions often target operations where the host (owner or renter) does not reside in the residence.

Austin, Texas limits short-term rental units located in residential zones — those that are not owner occupied — to a maximum of 3% of the residences in each census tract. This limit increases to 25% for multifamily units in commercial zones.

San Francisco allows permanent residents to rent out their home or apartment for up to 90 days each year, but the host must reside in the unit at least 275 days a year. Second homes cannot be used as short-term vacation rentals.

Miami Beach does not allow vacation rentals in some zoning districts.

The County’s proposed regulations attempt to address some of the issues associated with vacation rentals, but conversion of residences to vacation rentals would still be allowed.

With citizen support, the regulations could be expanded to reduce impacts to the affordability of housing for islanders, and to better protect our neighborhoods, commercial lodging businesses, and quality of life.

If you have a concern, opinion, or suggestion on this issue, send it in or speak at the hearing so your views will be considered.

Shireene Hale

Robin and Barry Jacobson

Dave Zeretzke

Bob Gamble

Jonathan and Jennifer Bryan

David Turnoy

Mary Wondra

Susan Dehlendorf

Eileen Gale

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